HOMILY for the feast of St Luke
Last Sunday, Felix Baumgartner made an extraordinary journey. He jumped from 24 miles above the earth and became the first human person to break the sound barrier outside of a vehicle. Having accomplished this feat, his name, which in Latin means ‘happy’ or ‘lucky’, seems very apt. For, when we human beings are fit and in the peak of health, we can be happy indeed because we seem capable of great things, almost without limit; we can go about and do what we enjoy.
But there’s nothing quite like sickness to bring us crashing down to earth. As the Catechism observes: “In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death” (CCC 1500). A physician like St Luke would have been well-acquainted with the crushing effects of illness in its manifold forms. As such, he also knew our deepest human desire, which is for healing, strength, and wholeness. And so, his Gospel speaks of the health of body and soul, the restoration of the whole human person, that is brought about by Jesus, the Divine Physician.
So, in the opening chapters of his Gospel, more often than any other evangelist, St Luke says repeatedly that humanity’s health has come; that we can be ‘happy as Felix’ and rejoice because of Jesus Christ. However, we don’t normally read ‘health‘ or ‘healing‘ in the text of the New Testament. Rather, soterion is usually translated as ‘salvation’ which makes me immediately think of the eternal destiny of the immortal soul. And that is right. But, in fact, soterion begins with the basic Greek meaning of ‘preservation in life’ or ‘bodily health’. And this is also evident in the Latin, salus, from which the word salvation is derived: it means ‘health’ or ‘well-being’.
We catch a glimpse of God’s salvation as ‘health‘ – wholeness and well-being of soul and body – in today’s Gospel. For the disciples are sent out to “heal the sick… and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Lk 10:9). It’s noteworthy that only St Luke makes this reference to the experience of being restored to health as a sign of the closeness of God and of God’s activity in the world. As a physician, St Luke would have seen it many times: the feeling of relief, elation, and completeness that is experienced by someone who’s healed. And St Luke wants to relate this happiness to faith in Jesus Christ: our health and wholeness and the joy we receive from that is a foretaste of the definitive salvation and eternal happiness that Jesus gives us.
As the Catechism says: “[Jesus’] healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death” (CCC 1505). So, sometimes, faith in Christ brings about a healing now; many priests have known people who’ve rallied or been happily restored to health after receiving the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. But, more importantly because it is related to our ultimate happiness, Christ draws near in the sacrament to dispel the ill effects of sickness on the soul by bringing his forgiveness, peace, courage and strength; he comes to prepare us for our final journey. And what an extraordinary journey it will be.
For we break, not the sound barrier, but the barrier of death. At the resurrection of the dead, our bodies will be restored to the peak of health and better, because we shall be freed from all illness and disease for ever. This is the salvation, the full health of body and soul, that Jesus promises us, and which St Luke makes known in his writings. And the result of such limitless health is that we shall be called not just Felix, happy, but Beatus, blessed.